IN the most recent encounter between these clubs only a few weeks ago Carmarthen produced a stunning display over 90 minutes, preventing the normally prolific Welsh Premier League champions from scoring and inflicting on them their first defeat of the season. Yet in this return fixture Town’s defiance lasted barely 90 seconds before TNS opened the scoring and then went on to secure a relatively comfortable victory.
From the start the hosts quickly settled into their customary game of monopolising possession and confidently passing the ball around before breaking quickly forward in search of scoring opportunities. And they soon found success when Ryan Brobbel raced forward to reach a fine through ball from Connell Rawlinson that split the visitors’ defence and then, from a sharp angle, struck a crisp shot that slid beneath ‘keeper Lee Idzi’s dive and into the far corner of the net.
While the Saints continued to dominate the play, increasingly the well-drilled Old Gold defence were offering stern resistance. Operating a largely tight man-marking system, comprising the recently proven central trio of Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey and Dave Vincent flanked by Luke Cummings and Craig Hanford, this unit showed commendable strength and composure in the face of the hosts’ persistent probing – and directly ahead of them, industrious midfielders Kieran Lewis, Ceri Morgan and Declan Carroll eagerly provided a further valuable layer of defensive support whenever necessary.
During these early stages Town were unable to make any serious progress on the counter-attack – yet after 14 minutes they managed to break through when Liam Thomas intercepted a poor Saints’ pass and raced forward from the half-way line before playing the ball invitingly across to Liam Griffiths on the edge of the penalty area but sadly he struck his shot too straight giving ‘keeper Paul Harrison a comfortable save.
However the action quickly returned to the other end of the pitch and on 20 minutes Adrian Cieslewicz burst deep into the penalty area and deftly lifted the ball over Idzi only to see it strike the bar. But it dropped nicely for Simon Spender who fired it back across the goalmouth where Cieslewicz drove the ball goalwards and while Vincent by the near post partially slowed its progress, the Old Gold were rescued by the sudden intervention of top scorer Thomas who instinctively recognised the danger and cleared the ball off the goal-line – graphic evidence, if it were needed, of the value of Town’s strategy of collective defending in depth.
Moments later Jamie Mullan threatened when he raced into the penalty area to reach another defence-splitting pass and finished with a rasping low strike that Idzi, demonstrating sharp reflexes and diving smartly down, hacked away to safety.
Yet in the 32nd minute TNS stretched their lead when Mullan’s incisive through ball found Cieslewicz just inside the penalty area and he dispatched an angled drive beyond Idzi’s reach and into the net.
Town responded to that further setback with some spirited counter-attacks and on 36 minutes they went close to reducing the deficit. Lewis sent a well-flighted corner into the packed goalmouth where Vincent rose highest but planted his firm close-range header narrowly over the bar.
Shortly afterwards the hosts should have gone further ahead. Chris Seargeant strode forward and dispatched a 25 yard strike that Idzi tipped on to the post but the ball rebounded straight to Greg Draper, unmarked and only 3 yards in front of an open goal – inexplicably he volleyed high over the bar.
Then the Old Gold again went close on 42 minutes with Thomas surging forward from the half-way line before sliding the ball across Lewis who smartly turned past a defender on the edge of the penalty area and released a fierce drive that flew beyond Harrison’s reach but went fractionally wide of the post.
After the interval the same pattern of play soon emerged with the Saints once more enjoying both possession and territorial advantage. On 53 minutes Jon Routledge produced a spectacular long-range shot that crashed against the underside of the bar but the ball bounced straight down virtually on to the goal-line before being gratefully claimed by Idzi.
However Town were still defending with admirable spirit and determination, managing generally to contain and frustrate their high-scoring, full-time professional opponents who actually helped significantly to keep the score-line respectable with some uncharacteristically wayward finishing.
And the Old Gold too continued to pose the occasional threat. In the 75th minute Lewis delivered a searching free-kick into the crowded penalty area where Morgan leapt high to glance the ball on towards Carroll who sent his 6 yard looping header just outside of the post.
Moments later TNS substitute Scott Quigley embarked on a powerful run from the half-way line to reach the corner of the penalty area yet, under no real pressure, he sent his angled drive wide of the target. Then in the closing stages Harrison launched a huge clearance upfield that sent Alex Darlington racing beyond the visitors’ defence but he saw his 20 yard strike turned around the post by Idzi with a flying, full- length save.
While the Old Gold have suffered some disappointing results since their exceptional start to their second-phase programme, the energy and commitment of the players cannot be faulted – and it has to be noted that not only are they now facing indisputably the four strongest teams in the WPL, but also they are doing so with one of the smallest squads in the League which recently has been seriously weakened by the absence of several key players due to an unprecedented injury crisis.
Carmarthen now have a two-week break (which hopefully may enable some of those injured players to return) before their next fixture on Saturday 8th April (k/o 2.30pm) when they visit Bala Town who currently occupy second place in the League.
Team: Lee Idzi, Luke Cummings, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey, Craig Hanford, Declan Carroll (Jordan Ellis 75), Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis, Liam Griffiths, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Lewis Harling, Dan Sheehan, Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers.
Cards: (Y) Liam Thomas (67), Jordan Ellis (85).